The forest has stories to tell you if you happen to visit every now and then. As of late, the stories are sad, but that makes listening that much more important.
We took our youngest on a daytrip to Wells Grey Park this past weekend. On our way out of town we drove in silence past the crosses for the 215 children whose unmarked graves have been recently discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School. There is deep sadness in each piece of clothing hanging by the side of the road, fluttering in the wind, and reminding us forever of all the lives that were violently taken away.
My family and I went to Victoria for a few days. It was quite a treat. The breath of early spring was present in purple crocus patches, red tulips and yellow daffodils spread along sidewalks, even a cherry tree shyly showing its tiny pink blossoms much to the delight of passersby in the heart of the harbour.
It was warm enough, sunny enough and the bit of rain was a good reminder that we were on the Coast after all. Our province really does have one charming capital.
As the boys are now homeschooled, we took our learning with us. And, as a friend aptly pointed out, one good thing about them learning at home is that there is no tuning in and out of the process.
No boundaries to separate learning hours from the rest of the day, and that learning comes with is simply the unavoidable reality that life and its lessons happen every step of the way. Deductions are our own, they come with lots of reading, and they complement the process.
You never know enough, I tell the boys. That’s the measure of humbleness that adds quality to your learning; realizing that what you learn adds pieces to a puzzle that keeps on growing, providing you with the bird’s eye view that we need to understand our path and the purpose of being here.
In the four days we had in Victoria we visited the Royal BC Museum, the Miniature Museum and the Bug Zoo. We visited the BC Forest Discovery Centre in Duncan and we were lucky to have a family friend take us to a forest research facility nearby where we learned about the pine beetle and other troubles that our majestic woods encounter, as well as the hard work involved in finding sustainable solutions to them thriving.
And just like that, as we headed to the BC Legislature two days later, we happened upon a peaceful protest. The Wilderness Committee volunteers were on the front steps holding unrolled banners with big letters: ‘Save Walbran Valley’. Media was there and there were people carrying small tree cardboard cut-outs. The Walbran Valley has magnificent old-growth trees, Sitka spruce and red cedar groves. It makes sense that it should be saved.
Who would want to cut those and why? Surely not someone who knows about the amazing old trees and their presence among us and in our forests. Being aware and willing to fight for them matters. Speaking up and standing up matters, but you have to know your reasons. Learning why forests are needed, and how to stand up for the tallest old giants among us and more, that is what learning helps with.
We were impressed to discover that we happened to be at the BC Legislature on the same day when the very buildings opened 118 years ago on February 10.
And we were also impressed to realize that Steve Thomson, the BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, who would have the power to reverse the controversial (detrimental to our province) logging permits, was likely just a few steps away at the time we visited.
Learning helps us all gather facts and understanding why we need to preserve rather than consume or downright destroy, reuse rather than make new, and recycle rather than add to the waste pile. The plethora of facts, past and present, may seem daunting but what’s the future going to look like if we don’t, and if we do not encourage our children to open their eyes and minds to see and learn?
We saw biking lanes lining the side of each road downtown and many people cycling every which way. A good thing to strive for in every city. Sure, temperature in Kamloops drops lower than theirs, but we have enough warm weather to make the most of it, cycling-wise. Or walking. All we need is to ask (and ask again) for lanes that make cycling safe.
Then we have to be diligent enough to help our children learn (by example ideally), that exercise is the best way to deal with stress, chronic health problems and to make a community tighter and healthier in all aspects. It takes learning but that is what carries us forth and makes us mind the miracle of being alive and keeping the world alive too.
We befriended two harbour seals who were so immensely curious and cute, willing to play and hang out with us humans. They danced gracefully underwater, they surfaced and dove again, they peeked at us from underwater and they almost spoke, or at least that is what it felt like. Then they left to return to their watery abode, wherever that might be. Theirs to choose and rightfully so.
All of that prompted a conversation about animals living in freedom, as opposed to those we imprison so that we can be entertained as we see them up-close. We know better by now. Conservation and rehabilitation aside, there should be no zoos but instead shelters and sanctuaries for animals and birds who cannot return to the wild.
It truly never stops: Learning and then learning some more. It’s a gift to ourselves, our children and to those with whom we share our world. Which is all of us.
Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on January 8, 2016.
Soon after we arrived in Transylvania my youngest had set up shop in a corner of my sister’s yard to do one of the things he likes the most: forging. It’s not quite what you’d imagine a 9-year-old doing and yet he loves the concept, enjoys the time spent learning about fires no matter how cold it is outside and every step adds a new layer of appreciation for manual work and for the things people can make if only they take the time.
He learns about durability in a world that becomes more disposable by the day. It’s a valuable lesson often packed with a blister here and there, sweat and time; lots of time spent learning and making things. Also, researching the next step in learning.
I remember the first time we went to Fort Langley during the time we still lived in Vancouver, the boys were four and nine at the time. The blacksmith’s shop was the main attraction for them. And why not? To see a piece of metal being transformed through the sheer power of heat and by the hard work of a strong arm into a unique candle holder was fascinating.
And yes, we still have the candleholder. It’s a beautiful reminder.
That day opened the topic that has become a mainstay: blacksmithing and forging. Who does it, where can you learn about it and where can one find people who carry on the trade?
Well, we found a couple in Barkerville. Our trip last May saw the boys perched on the blacksmith’s workshop fence, sun and all, just to hear stories about the trade and observe the process of how each piece comes to be. They saw pieces of bar stock curled into pendants and hooks and tools that the people of then needed for everyday life.
Trades are something of a lost art for the most part. We live in the days of 3D printers and cheap offshore labour (unethical often but then again ethics often gets in the way of money making so the issue is conveniently obscured by justification) and that means that trades that create cradle-to-grave products to be sold at fair prices may be slowly disappearing unless we make sure they don’t. And we cannot allow that to happen because we have too much to lose.
Our recent trip to Europe added more to the argument. I read about an elderly man up north who recently passed away. He was known for the beautiful traditional wooden gates he made all his life. I listened to him saying that he leaves but a handful of people who will carry on the trade.
He also talked about the gates and other unique woodwork he made. Far from being ‘just a…’, the things him and others make in the area are stories. Of times past, stories of centuries-old faith and values, joy and sorrow, stories of life unfolding.
That’s when it hit me. People tell stories with their craft. That is some of the magic of it. The solid root of a trade is the tradition incorporated in it by generations of people who believed it should continue, by communities showing they need the craft and those who make it happen.
Such realizations only point to a simple truth: no culture is too far from another. We are united in how we aim to carry further our traditions, and for those who get to see the same craft and trades in various countries, they get to see how trades become the bridge that tells of universal values and gifts carried throughout time by each of us. If we choose to see the treasure held in hand-made pieces of this and that, whether they are for decoration or everyday use.
Trades and crafts can be a common denominator of the non-imposed kind if you will… the kind that reminds us of a thing we often forget. That cultures around the world have so much in common, and their old stories tell of the same way of developing crafts that see solid things made and also see stories told to generations coming. For survival.
We cannot trade the old ways that taught us to value work for the sea of disposable things we’re surrounded by nowadays. No one has anything to gain from it. In fact we all lose.
Progress is not forgetting old ways and making everything fast and disposable, but rather incorporating old trades into new technologies that maintain good standards and see the world better not by the number of things we see sprouting every day, but by the way they hold their own as time goes by.
There is something to be said about that and I think kids learning about it may well be what saves us from ourselves in the long run. And just like that, there is something to be said about a child lifting a piece of raw material, whatever that may be, and saying ‘Mom, you know what I could make of this?…’
That’s how stories are written. And that’s how old stories continue; because they must.
I remember the first time I visited Kamloops. It was mid-summer: dusty, hot and the air was heavy. There was no ocean breeze to wrestle the heat down, but the river, slow moving and steady, was long with its row of trees a welcome refuge and an open invitation we’ve been honoring since.
Two months later our family landed here, and since that day, the river has been a faithful companion to our many adventures.
We canoed up and down the two rivers that meet forming a beautiful line separating the dark blue South Thompson from the silty northern arm, we got to see baby geese following their parents in a line that was as cute as was orderly; we saw foxes and ducks and sunsets galore, we fed gracious swans in mid-winter when the river decorates the sandy shores in icy lace ad wondered at their beauty.
We go swimming every summer night, and we walk alongside the shores in fall and winter. I met my best friend by the river and each stroll we take stopping every now and then to pick rocks and listen to the lapping sounds, reinforces not only our friendship but also my bond with the mysterious ribbon of water that carries too many stories to tell, too obvious to not see…
One of the stories was revealed this summer during our trip through the Kootenays when we happened by a small but well-appointed museum in Invermere where the boys and us adults learned more of David Thompson, the man who the First Nations knew as ‘the Star-gazer’ due to his passion for navigation, the man after which our North Thompson River was named.
We saw his writing and our eyes followed the contours of his words as he was describing the very places we go by when we visit the river. We stepped back in time and were filled with reverence for the gift of learning more of him.
David Thompson is the man who single-handedly mapped almost 50,000 miles of unchartered territory in Western Canada, a tremendous effort that was acknowledged long after his death, which unfortunately saw him poor and blind. Muriel Poulton Dunford, author of ‘North River – The Story of BC’s North Thompson Valley and Yellowhead Highway 5’ tells it all and more.
A man of high moral values and solid principles, David Thompson more than deserves to have his name gracing the rivers that have been the lifeblood of many communities since long ago. One of our homeschooling goals is to learn the history of Canada, British Columbia in particular, and focus long enough on our Thompson-Nicola region. We live here, therefore we should.
I am hoping and wanting that the boys’ love for their country and its history, young as it is if we are to refer for now to the explorers and traders (but that would be tremendously unfair), will only be enhanced as we learn of all those whose steps preceded ours.
A recent perusal through the news of the day revealed a Vogue photo shoot that features our PM and his wife. Though charming and sweet as a couple, I believe the PM’s place may not be a suitable one in a fashion magazine.
I have much admiration for people who go through ups and downs during their marriage and openly show their love for each other nonetheless, yet I could not help but feel that having such glamour imparted to our PM Justin Trudeau and his wife rather steals people’s attention from where it should go, making them focus on something that has little relevance to our present day history.
As they say, noblesse oblige. In the days of coming together as a nation to face humanitarian crises and honour promises that will help the environment worldwide, we need the sense of reverence towards our leaders and people of influence, rather than the short-lived admiration of beautiful people featured in fashion magazines.
Some may argue that love is beautiful and that is true and more, but I’d say that what we need nowadays as we are engaging on a journey led by a new PM, is respect and unflinching trust that we are to be led in the direction of mature leadership.
We need to learn of our history, we need to teach our children of it too, all of it and accurately so, dark times included, so that we can become the democratic, critical but at the same time respectful soundboard for the activities that our leaders conduct on a daily basis. A feedback loop that all democracies need in order to exist as such. Such a job requires knowledge of the past, a vision of the future and a steady arm to take us through the occasional tough present.
Our history is imbued with examples of inspirational people. Whether we learn of rivers or battles won and lost, of daring explorers who left behind so much that nowadays we take for granted, we need to never forget. We need to be able to trust that our leaders will continue to inspire us as we walk the many paths Canada opens before our eyes.
Originally published as a column in the AM News on October 2, 2014.
She said ‘I have something for you to borrow’ and walked to the hallway closet. From the top shelf she got a book. Green and old, hardcover, with writing that spilled the secret: a Kamloops directory from the late ‘40s.
I am visiting with my nonagerian friend I met when we moved to Kamloops. One sunny day in September of 2012 I walked barefoot across the street to her home and introduced myself. We’ve been close since.
We recently said goodbye to our first Kamloops home and I said goodbye to walking across the street to my friend’s home. It’ll be weekly visits from now on, just as good and pleasantly anticipated. Every time I visit with her she tells stories of old Kamloops, and we have a good laugh about many of them. She’s a keeper of memories like no one else. And sadly, one of the few left.
The house we moved into is a 1905 house in a downtown area where old houses still stand, hence my friend’s suggestion that I borrow the book and look up former residents. Our house comes with a soul and it seems logical that we look into finding out who added to it over the years.
My elderly friend always talks of the old days and reinforces my belief that we need to mind them more than we do nowadays. Because history is very hard to keep track of, true history, she says. And knowing how a place and its people came to be, helps us understand how we should shape the future so that it honours us, those before us and those who are still to come.
Kamloops has plenty of history still, and much of it stands right in front of you in shape of old buildings. Some are truly decrepit but some are not. Sadly, many will never make it past this decade.
Just two days ago, a close friend told me of the house her grandfather built and she grew up in. It came down to make room for an apartment building. If you’re ready to picture an old derelict unsafe house that had no future, you’re risking a false, gross assumption.
The house displayed beautiful features of old craftsmanship, mahogany walls and the kind of solid design that could make it through another century. It didn’t, unfairly so.
My nonagerian friend tells me of a friend who moved into a house just down the street that was built by W Jas Moffat, a former mayor of Kamloops and skilled home builder. She read about that in the book she gave me to peruse.
I drove home with the book and a car full of herb planters, drift wood and rocks I had left behind yesterday when we moved. I sat on the front steps among boxes and other paraphernalia, glanced at the river winding its way through the ever-growing new Kamloops and the beautiful hills rolling as far as the eyes could see and then I read through the book. I was struck by an interesting feature: each person had their occupation listed also.
You might be thinking about privacy and such. Oddly enough, it doesn’t violate any privacy concerns of mine. I consider myself a private person and wary of prying eyes in general. But a directory where everyone was listed with their occupation, rather than just an address, revealed a level of transparency that pointed to accountability and citizenship rather than gratuitous exposure.
The book I was holding had been a Kamloops directory, and nowadays is a history book. Not bad of a transformation.
There are stories written on every page, next to each name, just like there are stories written in the dark chocolate wooden floors I step on in our new dwelling. They have been here since 1905 and I consider it a privilege to be able to offer my sons a slice of old Kamloops, since as every recently transplanted resident knows, being new comes with feeling rootless.
Well, it turns out that you can grow roots if willing. Through people who share stories, and through places that you can love and are willing to work hard to bring back to life.
If I am to instill in my sons respect for the values that made Canada what it is and help them grow into citizens who know how to honour it, and demand the same from their political leaders, I figure it’ll be from the ground up, literally. The reverence an old building can inspire is not one we should take for granted. It’s the portal to the days when openness was not considered lack of privacy but civic responsibility. We need more of that.
If you are willing to accept that as truth, then it’ll make sense that the lack of transparency we see nowadays, from a neighborhood or town level to the highest political tier, leads to lack of accountability, damaging in the long run and clearly capable to hurt the solidity of our community and country, and transform the values our anthem reminds us of.
(Originally published as a column in The Armchair Mayor News on February 21, 2014)
On the way to Wells Grey Park last spring we spotted a ghost house and its adjacent barn and we stopped. The boys would not have it any other way. We walked through tall green grass all the way to the house and looked inside through rickety windows. Speechless was the only way to do it right.
An old fireplace, wooden slabs chewed by various bugs lay asleep on dusty floors and from somewhere in a corner, the chirping of new baby swallows. A nest was safely glued to the ceiling and beady eyes peeked at us.
Photos are never able to convey the feeling of being there. The boys ask questions; some answers we know, some we look up together and some we will never know.
We have been trying to get into some other old establishments in Sandon for a while now. It is not exactly a bright star on everyone’s map, but it is on ours. Until we get to explore it fully with the boys, that is. And afterwards too because it holds a piece of the province’s history that children should know about.
As the boys grow, we will keep the list of places growing too. Soon to visit is Bella Coola, and The Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena.
When time has to be squeezed for bigger trips, we put in all our might, because it matters that the boys see and know.
We took them to see the pictographs up at the caves near Savona, and though the hike was a gnarly one, they both declared it worth it when they got to the top.
We take them to see old towns where the new is slow to come and for a good reason. People are not ready to part with the good things that worked well for so many years.
We take them to see remote areas with no sign of civilization, we take them to old quiet forests where the only steps are those of animals, and then talk about it all. Questions abound, then other topics tumble through their curious minds, but we see the places we visited reflected in their games.
Outside games, muck and sticks and expeditions so adventurous they make their eyes sparkle with excitement. All in a day’s game…
We want the boys to see the face of the world in its entirety, not just in its novelty. Because no matter how well designed, progress and novelty are but part of the real world, and they will never offer the big picture just by themselves.
Children need both sides. They need to see what a place looks like, they need to understand why, and they need to understand what the future holds should changes occur.
The world is changing fast. Forces other than needs – think economic growth and not necessarily for the benefit of the province or country – dictate how the future unfolds. The recent dismantling of science libraries by the Harper government sent a chill through many a spine in the country. If we erase or are made to forget the past then the future will be built on sand and that’s a short-lived future.
Knowing where you come from shapes the way you take as you advance through life. It applies at a personal level as well as a community and society level.
We will keep on taking the boys along for rides. From near to far, through snow-clad old forests where old mines and forgotten train tracks lay forgotten, to visiting our museum here in town, we will keep on adding pieces to the big puzzle that will be one day called a responsible citizen.
One that acts with grace and possesses the understanding of how he came to be. With gratitude towards the people who walked ahead of them and responsibility for the ones that are to come. Because life was never intended to be partially erased or forgotten.
Because there is more to life than being in the present. There is minding of the past and the future and building the bridge to link them with all that we learn along the way.
What I know is that children learn best when they do it hands on. Eyes on too. The hearts and minds follow every time.
The ground is awfully hard to dig in. I have a small green shovel and it feels like I am trying to dig a hole in cement.
It is midday and we are burying some bone fragments we have found on the field close to my sister’s house. They are white and brittle and the intricate trabecular network is all exposed where the bone was broken.
My sister says it could be an animal bone but just to be sure we pay proper respect in case they are not, we will be burying them.
Sasha and I walk barefoot into the field, over some sharp white rocks that hurt both feet and eyes with a sun so bright, just until we reach an area where the grass has been cut a while ago.
The grass stubble is all dry and sharp, it’s like walking on toothpicks. We pick a spot and start digging. The combination of dried up, hardened dirt and liquid heat that pours on my back makes me think of all those who had and have to do this work not for a stint like ours today but for a living…
Ten centimeters in, we scoop the dirt out and lay the bone fragments in. You cannot not think of all that once was, in case they really are Roman bones. Two years ago around here I found a skull, that really was a Roman skull and I still remember feeling the ridges inside and the flurry of thoughts it caused in my head.
It’s a good reminder of how time takes no one’s part and a humbling experience altogether.
Last night we walked to the old fortress that is now beautifully restored and got to see a short play, a reenactment of times past, when the Romans first came to conquer Dacia. The boys were impressed and having possible undiscovered archaeological sites a few steps away makes them want to roam and dig and wonder.
This is a place imbued with history, a Roman town was once built here because of a legion that was stationed here for many years. There’s been a lot of digging done by teams of archaeologists and the local museum’s exhibitions have been swelling to impressive sizes and collection of artifacts, but truth is, the past has only been partially discovered.
It makes sense. Why would you take everything out anyway? Some things are better left alone. It is somewhat thrilling to know that even in my sister’s garden as we walk to do the daily gardening chores, there may be human remains deep in the ground and some more artifacts, pottery and such.
We cover the bones in dry hot dirt and walk home. I stop to pull out a couple of spikes that have pierced my feet and look around. The field runs buzzing with all sorts of bugs all the way to the feet of some old quiet hills, just like then. Some two thousand years or so ago. Time takes no one’s part. A reminder to be grateful for today…